Working out has long been known to improve one's self-image, but it might boost sexual image as well.
A new research study found that college students who exercise often and describe themselves as physically fit also view themselves as more sexually desirable and believe they perform better sexually than those who exercise much less.
This isn't the first study linking fitness to a better sex life, but lead researcher Tina Penhollow says most of the previous research she found connected physical fitness to improved sexual function and greater sexual satisfaction.
"We were thinking of ways to expand the current research, and no one has really studied perceived sexual desirability," says Penhollow, a doctoral candidate in the health science program at the University of Arkansas. "We thought fitness and exercise may make people feel more sexy."
Previous research found that people who were physically active were more likely to engage in sexual behavior, report better sexual functioning and have a higher sex drive. According to studies done in 2003, sedentary men who burned at least 200 calories a day through exercise could substantially lower their risk of erectile dysfunction, and women reported being more sexually responsive after engaging in 20 minutes of vigorous exercise.
In Penhollow's study, published in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality last year, 408 single male and female University of Arkansas college students were surveyed about their exercise habits and perceived levels of sexual desirability and performance. Overall, those who had higher perceived levels of fitness rated themselves as being more sexually desirable and performing better sexually than people with lower fitness levels. More than 90% of men who reported their fitness level as much above average rated their sexual performance and desirability as above average or much above average. Among women there was also a corollary between higher fitness levels and desirability.
But for women, that correlation dropped as the frequency of exercise increased. All men who exercised six to seven days a week rated their desirability as above average or much above average, while only 63% of women who exercised with the same frequency rated themselves that way.
Those numbers surprised Penhollow. "You would think that most females who worked out that much would feel more confident about themselves and feel more sexually desirable," she says. But in women, she adds, frequent workouts might be an indication of poor body image. Also, women who work out more tend to up the cardio, while men concentrate on weights: "The more they work out, the bigger they get, and the better they feel about themselves," she adds.
"What people should take from this," Penhollow says, "is that exercise is not just important for longevity and health benefits, there are also psychological benefits as well. People feel better about themselves and perceive themselves as more confident and sexually desirable. Exercise is important in every aspect of life, even one's sexual life."
Michael Young, the study's coauthor and a university professor in the health science program, says those who are far beyond college years might also reap similar benefits. "Does it apply to fortysomething or fiftysomething folks? Intuitively I think that people who work out ought to feel better about themselves."
Young adds that the study results may be a good incentive to start exercising. "It's probably a bigger carrot than a lot of things you could put out there for folks."